A tale of four chim­neys

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - London -

Peter Watts ex­plores the many it­er­a­tions of Bat­tersea Power Sta­tion, as seen through its iconic smoke­stacks

For decades, Bat­tersea Power Sta­tion has squat­ted by the rail­way line like a river­side fortress, its four chim­neys act­ing as a mod­ern coun­ter­point to the tur­rets of the Tower of Lon­don down­river. But travel past the hulk­ing gi­ant to­day, and you may be in for a sur­prise.

The power sta­tion cur­rently has one soli­tary chim­ney, the other three hav­ing been re­cently de­mol­ished. It looks vul­ner­a­ble, like Sam­son with­out his hair, but don’t worry, the chim­neys will be re­placed as part of a £9 bil­lion re­de­vel­op­ment scheme that will see the first res­i­dents move into apart­ments over­look­ing the power sta­tion in Jan­uary.

“With­out the chim­neys, it’s noth­ing,” says Rob Tinck­nell, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Bat­tersea Power Sta­tion Devel­op­ment Com­pany, who spends much of his time staving off ques­tions about the devel­op­ment’s progress. “I will be a lot hap­pier when I see those chim­neys go­ing up.”

Tinck­nell, whose great-grand­fa­ther ran the Leighton Buz­zard ce­ment com­pany that made the chim­neys in the first place, un­der­stands the ap­peal of the most fa­mous stacks in Lon­don. But this isn’t the first time the build­ing has been short of chim­neys.

The power sta­tion opened with two fun­nels in 1933 with a third ar­riv­ing in 1941. The Se­cond World War de­layed con­struc­tion for an­other 14 years be­fore the fourth chim­ney was com­pleted in 1955. Only then, more than 20 years af­ter the power sta­tion be­gan pro­duc­ing elec­tric­ity, did Bat­tersea take on its fa­mil­iar ap­pear­ance. Now, that process is hap­pen­ing in re­verse. The chim­neys have been rot­ting for years, and the worst one, in the south-west cor­ner, was de­mol­ished and re­built in 2015.

“It lit­er­ally crum­bled,” says Tinck­nell. “The con­di­tion was much worse than orig­i­nally thought. We are now re­build­ing them ex­actly the same as when they were orig­i­nally made.”

Keith Garner, an ar­chi­tect and mem­ber of the cam­paign­ing Bat­tersea Power Sta­tion Com­mu­nity Group, dis­putes the need to de­mol­ish and re­build the chim­neys. He be­lieves they should be pre­served and re­fur­bished in situ.

“The chim­neys have he­li­cal re­in­forc­ing in­side and clas­si­cal flut­ing to the ex­te­rior, so in­side it looks like a fish­net stock­ing and that is ap­par­ently unique,” he says. “They are in­ter­est­ing for that rea­son, as well be­ing part of the to­tal­ity, the au­then­tic­ity of the build­ing.”

Their im­por­tance is also ac­knowl­edged by Sir Ed­ward Lis­ter, for­mer Deputy Mayor of Lon­don and Con­ser­va­tive leader of Wandsworth Coun­cil, which cov­ers the power sta­tion. “The de­vel­op­ers recog­nise that some of the in­ter­est that has been gen­er­ated is de­pen­dent upon this mas­sive power sta­tion and the chim­neys,” he says. “It’s a brand, a great in­ter­na­tional land­mark that peo­ple know from all over the world. The suc­cess of the com­mer­cial space is en­tirely de­pen­dent on peo­ple say­ing, ‘I am go­ing to the power sta­tion’, so the chim­neys have to go back up.”

Although the eye-catch­ing chim­neys give Bat­tersea its majesty, they were not built for aes­thetic ap­peal. The lo­ca­tion, size and num­ber were de­ter­mined by their role in the “gas-wash­ing” process that en­sured a coal-burn­ing power sta­tion would not send plumes of sul­phur over Lon­don.

The orig­i­nal plans had 16 short steel chim­neys aligned in two rows and braced by steel ca­bles. How­ever, as fears grew about pol­lu­tion – one politi­cian wrote in 1929 that the power sta­tion would “kill ev­ery green thing within two miles of Bat­tersea, rot all the build­ings and bleach all the ba­bies” – the chim­neys grew pro­gres­sively fewer and higher un­til only four re­mained.

Each chim­ney is about 352ft tall (fig­ures vary), with an in­ter­nal di­am­e­ter of 28ft nar­row­ing to 22ft at the top, still twice as big as a Cen­tral Line tun­nel. Once the first chim­neys were com­pleted, Bat­tersea be­came Lon­don’s tallest struc­ture, un­til the erec­tion of the tele­vi­sion mast at Crys­tal Palace in the Fifties. From 1955 the four chim­neys gave Bat­tersea an un­mis­tak­able sil­hou­ette, vis­i­ble across the city, that fea­tured in TV pro­grammes, films and on al­bum cov­ers, such as Pink Floyd’s An­i­mals, which fa­mously fea­tured an in­flat­able pig named Algy. For many, the chim­neys were Bat­tersea Power Sta­tion.

This was recog­nised in 1983 when the power sta­tion was de­com­mis­sioned, leav­ing peo­ple pon­der­ing what to do with the com­mand­ing but use­less listed build­ing. Mav­er­ick ar­chi­tect Cedric Price made a rad­i­cal pro­posal. Price, surely the only ar­chi­tect to be a mem­ber of the Na­tional In­sti­tute of

Star sta­tus: Pink Floyd’s pig stunt for its An­i­mals al­bum cover, above, and front­man David Gil­mour, be­low

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